Benefits of baby massage
Massage stimulates the release of the body’s natural ‘feel good’ chemical, oxytocin. When oxytocin floods the body, it helps the mother and baby to form a close bond. Having a baby can cause new parents a great deal of apprehension. The fear of ‘doing something wrong’ can be overwhelming and have such an impact that the caregiver feels they are safer when not held. Babies can often sense if the mother is upset or nervous, which causes them anxiety and stress in return. Baby massage helps parents gain confidence in holding their baby.
Research suggests that massaging a baby regularly helps to get the circulation rhythms on track, meaning they will sleep more at night and be more active during the day. Babies who are massaged often, have been found to have higher levels of melatonin (sleepy hormone) in their bodies.
The circulatory system consists of 2 parts; cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. These 2 systems work together to detoxify the body. Massage stimulates the flow of blood lymph vessels, thus enhancing circulation. Improved circulation enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscle cells. Massage can also relieve colic & constipation pains by relaxing the abdomen muscles, allowing any build up of gas to move out. It can put gentle pressure on the intestine, which increases their muscular activity to help squeeze their waste through. Massage is also an effective tool for calming a baby when they are teething. The UK NHS advice line lists baby massage as a treatment to try if a baby is upset.
“The practise of infant massage provides the opportunity for parents to tune into their babies, communicate love and security and read their cues. It enables the crucial process of bonding and a baby’s understanding of action/reaction and the foundations of empathy. It also helps the activation of the serve-and-return wiring in the brain; providing the basis of healthy brain architecture; particularly in relation to life-long mental well-being, empathy, emotional regulation and cognitive skills” (Feldman, Rosenthal & Eidelman, 2014; National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004; World Health Organisation, 2004).
Babies with additional needs
Massage can be a wonderful bonding tool for parents of children with additional needs. It is something to do with your baby rather than for them. An opportunity for you to share your love and strengthen your communication between you.
Hearing impairments can delay development and massage can help to overcome this as it helps parents communicate with their child through facial expressions whilst also developing lip reading.
Visually impaired babies often respond really well to massage as it gives them chance to communicate with the world around them through touch, encouraging socialising and overcoming resistance to being touched.
For babies with cerebral palsy, massage can bring a moderate to high level of relief from muscle cramps and improvement in muscle tone and posture.
Babies with developmental delay can often show signs of resistance to some parts of the body being touched. Massage strokes can be adapted to suit the individual child’s preferences. For the face, drawing smile strokes close to their lips promotes good swallowing.
Babies with hypersensitivity or autism can benefit from firmer pressure and stokes. A warm bath and brisk rubbing with a terrycloth towel before a massage can increase acceptance of skin to skin massage.
Premature babies- A UK neonatal study was carried out in 2004 to see if baby massage supported the development of premature babies in intensive care units. The study revealed that the babies who were massaged spent less time in hospital, had slightly better scores on developmental tests and slightly fewer post-natal complications.